The actor resurrected his impersonation of former president George W. Bush for the event, which was held in support of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“How do you like me now?” Ferrell joked in his iconic Bush twang, to huge laughs from the crowd of about 2,600.
“History has proven to be kinder to me than many of you thought,” Ferrell said in character. “For the longest time, I was considered the worst president of all time. That has changed — and it only took 100 days.”
Ferrell’s Bush delivered blistering remarks taking on Fox News, accusing Trump of having a “thin skin,” and giving out some fashion advice. (“A big, long tie that goes past your mid-thigh does not mean what you think it means.”)
Ferrell’s appearance was a highlight on a show that didn’t deviate much from Bee and “Full Frontal’s” usual approach to comedy.
There were segments dedicated to the science of facts, CNN, a “gone too late” tribute to former Fox News figures Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes, and a piece that gave glimpses of an alternate reality in which Hillary Clinton won the presidency.
In an ode to Amazon’s “Man in the High Castle,” Bee found footage of this alternate world and watched herself give an address to Clinton at the imagined White House Correspondents’ dinner.
The night opened with another could-be-viral piece featuring Allison Janney. In the taped segment, Janney brought back her “West Wing” character C.J. Cregg and spoke to a room of oddball bloggers in a the White House briefing room.
The sketch ended with Janney (as Cregg) giving a speech that admonished the purveyors of fake news.
“You people are monsters,” Janney said. “Yes, we have freedom of speech and of press in this country and that is a beautiful thing. So if a bankrupt gang of racist bloggers, anarchists, dominionist radio hosts and rancid radio hosts want to call yourself journalists, no one can stop you. But you are part of the reason no one trusts the real press.”
She praised real journalists who “work day and night to find the truth” and “chase down stories even when the stories put them in danger.”
“You’re ruining their reputation — at least among people too stupid to tell the difference. You are the dregs of a free society,” she said. “We have to let you exist, but we don’t have to listen to you. So Samantha Bee will be spending the evening with real reporters.”
The “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” special airs Saturday on TBS at 10 p.m. ET. (TBS, like CNN, is owned by Turner.) An uncensored encore version will broadcast on Twitter at 11 p.m. ET.